Many things you thought you knew about sensorineural hearing loss might be wrong. Alright – not everything is wrong. But we can clear up at least one false impression. Normally, we think that sensorineural hearing loss develops over time while conductive hearing loss happens suddenly. Actually, sudden sensorineural hearing loss often goes undiagnosed.
When You Get sensorineural Hearing Loss, is it Normally Slow Moving?
The difference between conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss could be hard to understand. So, here’s a quick breakdown of what we’re talking about:
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This type of hearing loss is normally due to damage to the nerves or stereocilia in the inner ear. Your thinking of sensorineural hearing loss when your considering hearing loss caused by loud noise. Even though you may be able to treat sensorineural hearing loss so it doesn’t get worse in most cases the damage is permanent.
- Conductive hearing loss: This kind of hearing loss results from a blockage in the outer or middle ear. This could consist of anything from allergy-driven swelling to earwax. Usually, your hearing will return when the underlying blockage is cleared away.
It’s common for sensorineural hearing loss to occur slowly over a period of time while conductive hearing loss happens fairly suddenly. But that’s not always the case. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (or SSNHL) is somewhat uncommon, but it does occur. And SSNHL can be especially damaging when it’s not treated properly because everyone thinks it’s a strange case of conductive hearing loss.
Why is SSNHL Misdiagnosed?
To understand why SSNHL is misdiagnosed fairly often, it may be practical to have a look at a hypothetical interaction. Let’s suppose that Steven, a busy project manager in his early forties, woke up one day and couldn’t hear anything in his right ear. His alarm clock seemed quieter. As did his barking dog and chattering grade-schoolers. So he did the practical thing and scheduled a hearing exam. Needless to say, Steven was in a rush. He had to get caught up on a lot of work after recovering from a cold. Perhaps he wasn’t certain to emphasize that recent ailment during his appointment. And maybe he even accidentally left out some other relevant info (he was, after all, already thinking about getting back to work). And as a result Steven was prescribed some antibiotics and told to come back if the symptoms did not diminish by the time the pills were gone. It’s rare that sensorineural hearing loss happens suddenly (something like 6 in 5000 according to the National Institutes of Health). So, Steven would normally be fine. But there could be dangerous repercussions if Steven’s SSNHL was misdiagnosed.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss: The First 72 Critical Hours
SSNH can be caused by a variety of conditions and events. Including some of these:
- Specific medications.
- Problems with blood circulation.
- Traumatic brain injury or head trauma of some kind.
- A neurological condition.
This list could keep going for, well, quite a while. Whatever problems you should be watching for can be better understood by your hearing professional. But the point is that lots of of these hidden causes can be managed. And if they’re treated before injury to the nerves or stereocilia becomes permanent, there’s a possibility that you can reduce your long term hearing loss.
The Hum Test
If you’re experiencing a bout of sudden hearing loss, like Steven, you can do a brief test to get a rough concept of where the issue is coming from. And it’s fairly straight forward: just start humming. Pick your favorite song and hum a few bars. What do you hear? Your humming should sound the same in both of your ears if your loss of hearing is conductive. (Most of what you’re hearing when you hum, after all, is coming from inside your own head.) It’s worth mentioning to your hearing expert if the humming is louder on one side because it may be sensorineural hearing loss. Inevitably, it’s possible that sudden sensorineural hearing loss might be misdiagnosed as conductive hearing loss. That can have some repercussions for your overall hearing health, so it’s always a smart idea to bring up the possibility with your hearing professional when you go in for your appointment.